Only a Full Confession Scrubs the Moral Slate Clean

A study recently published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that subjects who fully confess after a moral misstep feel better than those who only come partially clean.  In addition, others judge the half-steppers more harshly than they do those who go all the way with their confessions.

Researchers set up an online game that allowed participants to cheat, and then offered those that cheated a chance to confess.  They then measured negative affect (e.g., guilt) among four groups: those who didn’t cheat, those who cheated but didn’t confess, those who cheated and partially confessed, and those who cheated and fully confessed.  The results:


What’s interesting is that a partial confession is worse than a full confession… and it’s even worse than no confession at all (at least in terms of reducing negative feelings).

Why does this happen?  Some thoughts tomorrow on morality, disgust and MacGyver.

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